US legislators have cleared the road for upgrades of the nation’s air cargo security regime. In late March they passed the Air Cargo Security Improvement Act which calls for broad reviews of existing regulations and processes and the underlying strategy as well as a study of emergent technology to ramp up cargo screening capabilities.
The act bundles responsibilities by establishing the air cargo security division within the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as the body to carry out all related security policy as well as engage with all stakeholders.
A second core element of the new legislation is the mandate requiring the TSA Administrator to set up a feasibility study of emerging technologies like computed tomography in order to broaden the arsenal of sanctioned screening options. The study is to be followed by a pilot programme to test technology deemed potentially viable.
Industry executives have welcomed this mandate. Brandon Fried, executive director of the US Airforwarders Association, has been a regular participant in communication between the air cargo sector and government bodies about air cargo security. He noted that there have not been any significant changes in the screening methods since the inception of the Certified Cargo Screening Programme (CCSP) in 2009.
However, he expressed concern over the amount of money allocated to technology research, arguing that more government funding is needed.
The Airforwarders Association is not pushing for any particular technology, but the current inability to screen full pallets and containers remains a challenge.
“The Holy Grail is technology that can screen a fully wrapped aircraft pallet of mixed commodities,” Fried said.
“That said, a new TSA initiative allowing the use of third-party private canine teams as a screening tool within the Certified Cargo Screening Program is an exciting development. Once implemented, forwarders and their airline partners will finally have a faster and presumably less expensive way to screen air cargo using the nose of a trained dog. This may be the ultimate low-tech solution to a traditionally high-tech problem,” he continued.
Besides clearing the road for new technology to be put under the microscope, the new air freight security legislation calls for broad reviews of the main elements of the existing security framework. The CCSP regime as well as the Known Shipper programme are going to be examined.
Moreover, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is now mandated to conduct reviews of the TSA’s screening processes and its procedures to scrutinize air cargo entering the US as well as the risk-based strategy that is at the heart of the current security regime.
Fried acknowledged that with reviews there is always a risk of new roadblocks emerging, but he reckons that this danger is “pretty remote.”
“The market and technology are ever-changing and it is essential that we, the regulator and the regulated, stay current. For example, TSA created the Known Shipper programme before the September 11 attacks, and prior to the e-commerce mega-trend we see today. Since then the consumer market has changed and screening of air cargo on passenger planes is now law. Therefore, reviewing and possibly enhancing the Known Shipper programme to make it more reflective of current reality is important,” he said.
As with the reviews of the CCSP and Known Shipper elements, he is not worried about the possibility of any stumbling blocks emerging from the GAO’s review of current screening processes and the TSA’s risk-based approach to air cargo security.
“No immediate concerns, but of course, we need to keep an open mind to international security procedures that may differ but be as effective as ours are in the United States,” he remarked.
Earlier draft legislation had included a provision calling on the Department of Homeland Security to issue a final rule to introduce the Air Cargo Advance Screening (ACAS) programme within six months. The initiative, which will mandate the advance submission of data of international shipments entering the US, has been in development for several years.
Fried does not think that the omission of this provision indicates a slowdown in the push for ACAS, nor does he foresee any delay of this as a result of the reviews mandated by the Air Cargo Security Improvement Act.
“I doubt there will be much, if any, impact. ACAS is not a replacement for existing protocols but rather an additional layer,” he stated, adding that there has been news from the US Customs and Border Protection agency (which oversees ACAS), suggesting that the scheme is close to the finish line.
By Ian Putzger
Air Freight Correspondent | Toronto